Emergency Care For You

Emergencies A-Z

Head Injury

Head injuries can be caused by falls, motor vehicle crashes and even violence. It's important to prevent injuries by buckling your seat belt in your car and wearing safety equipment, such as helmets, while biking or playing sports or construction hats for heavy construction work.  Protect your children and take steps to make yourself safe.

If a person loses consciousness after a head injury, then the person has had a "concussion," which may be serious because it means there has been a temporary loss in brain function. Some people with concussions do not lose consciousness, and brain injuries can occur without a loss of consciousness.

Danger Signs - Adults

Severe head injuries can involve bruising, fracture, swelling, internal bleeding or a blood clot. Seek emergency care if you notice any of these signs of severe head injury:

  • Headaches that worsen, despite over-the-counter pain medications.
  • Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination.
  • Repeated vomiting.
  • Loss of consciousness for more than one minute.
  • Person is unconscious or cannot be awakened.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Unequal pupil sizes - one pupil (the black part in the middle of the eye) is larger than the other.
  • Convulsions or seizures.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Increased confusion or agitation.

You do not need to prevent a person with a head injury from sleeping as a safeguard against going into a coma; this concept is a myth. If the person has neck pain, try to prevent any movement of the neck.

Danger Signs - Children

Seek emergency medical assistance if the child:

  • Exhibits any of the danger signs listed for adults.
  • Won't stop crying.
  • Can't be consoled.
  • Refuses to eat or nurse.
  • In infants, exhibits bulging in the soft spot on the front of the head. 
  • Shows any sign of skull trauma or obvious abnormality of the skull, such as bruising on the scalp or a depressed area at the location of the injury.

Parents should note that vomiting is more common in young children, and they should only seek medical attention for a suspected head injury if a child vomits repeatedly in a brief period of time (e.g., more than once or twice within an hour) after a head injury.